The setting sun put all of the day's events to rest at its usual time, leaving Ansem to fume in his bed, alone. Xehanort was not meant to have known about Catherine. None of them were. It couldn't be kept a secret forever, though. Everything comes to an end eventually. Ansem picked an ornate snuffer off of his nightstand and doused his candle with it. The sound of the wind in the halls of the castle lulled him to sleep.
"Are your people happy, oh mighty king?"
Ansem blinked, and then rubbed his eyes.
"Do you rule in their favor?"
Ansem realized that he was standing on his feet now, robed as a casual citizen would be.
His voice faltered. He was inclined to answer yes, but he startled suddenly.
"Who are you? Where am I?"
He looked about himself frantically and saw, to his great surprise, that he was atop what appeared to be a colossal, stained-glass pillar, the top of which depicted him on the throne. In many circles around the central image he could see pupils that he had taken on over the years: Xehanort, Braig, Even, Aeleus, Dilan, Catherine, and some others that he didn't recognize. It occurred to him that they may not all have been his pupils. But then what did they have in common?
Ansem looked wildly about himself for the voice. It was as plain as white text, and as omnidirectional as a thought.
"Do you prioritize your people above all else?"
"Y-yes! Of course."
Beyond his cylindrical vantage point, he could see nothing but a dark smoke that played upon his imagination. A piece of it cleared for him now, and he saw, in the distance, another pillar that was taller than his. A stained-glass platform appeared, like a single stepping stone, on the side of his pillar that faced the other. He approached it cautiously, and set one foot on it. Another step appeared in front of him, and he followed it. The steps took him higher and higher, until finally he was level with the second pillar. He stepped onto it and observed the new image with slight bewilderment.
His daughter was reclining with a locket held at arms length. She gazed longingly at a picture that was in it, but it was held at such an angle that it was not displayed. Ansem frowned. In the circles surrounding the central image were all of the eligible bachelors he could think of and more.
"Is she free to choose whomever she wishes, or must she follow in your steps?"
Ansem covered his mouth with one hand and braced his elbow on the other. It was a tough decision for him to make, of course. But no decision was ever easy.
"Far be it from me to intervene in matters of true love."
"And if she chose someone wrong?"
Ansem shifted his weight.
Pieces of the darkness around him edged their ways onto the pillar and covered several of the outlying pictures. Shadowy figures sprang up in their places. Ansem took several steps back to distance himself from the beings. They were shadow-like representations of people, with golden orbs for eyes.
"Will you defend her, as your daughter?"
The shadows took a step forward in unison and each drew rapiers. Ansem felt a sudden weight in his hand and looked at it quickly. He was now, inexplicably, in possession of a very large key. A key fit for a king, he thought. The shadows readied themselves defensively and Ansem obliged with a lunge. The first shadow fell like a plumb off of a tree and Ansem spun, releasing arcane fire from his outstretched fingers as he did. The other two shadows fell and were replaced instantly by three more. The darkness spread over more bachelors as they fell, and Ansem destroyed them as they rose. Some would get a chance to make a lunge, or swing wildly with sabers, but their motions were brash and lacked the refinement and wisdom that came with experience. Ansem's skill more than made up for his age, and the keyblade was more than able to deliver on power. Ansem twirled the strange weapon above his head on an open palm to squeeze between two more opponents, who stabbed each other thoughtlessly, and brought his steel down hard on the last of them. Ansem heaved a sigh and loosened his grip on the key. He wiped his brow on instinct, but found no sweat. So this was a dream.
"Fools, all of them. I can repel any threat that youth could pose to my own daughter."
Ansem turned and saw that, in fact, there was one more. Two images remained. One, Ansem realized, was his own pupil, Xehanort. The other, a figure cloaked like the elite Palace Guard.
"All of them?" The voice chided him as darkness covered Xehanort's image.
But this time, two figures emerged. Ansem took a step away from them and felt his heel cross over the edge of the pillar. The first figure, which had bleached white hair, a rod of energy in each hand, and a Palace Guard uniform, began circling the pillar to Ansem's left, while the other, which had a bizarre emblem tattooed into its chest, paced to his right. In unison befitting machines they uttered, "Darkness is the hearts true essence."
Ansem was unnerved for a moment, but steeled himself.
"I am willing to defend my daughter at all costs. Even if it comes between you and I Xehanort! I hope for your sake that it does not."
Again in unison they replied, "Then you do not know the true power of darkness."
They both rushed him head on without a single strike and Ansem was pushed over the edge. He looked below himself to see his feet leave the safety of the ground, and then begin their descent to whatever lay below.
"Don't worry," the voice said.
"There are others to take your place."
Another key locked with his as if they were shaking hands, and Ansem was swung around the side of the pillar and up onto solid ground again by someone he couldn't see. He brought himself to the ready as soon as he landed and deflected several angered blows by the Xehanort with the cloak. Ansem lashed out with an ice spell and followed up the hit with a blow from the keyblade that sent him staggering backward. Ansem swiped again and again Xehanort was forced back. He made for a final blow and felt a rush of air pass him as whoever had saved him flew overhead feet-first, knocking Xehanort over the edge. Ansem pivoted on his toes and saw that the other had been disposed of as well. He pivoted back to face the figure that had saved him. It was the last bachelor. A Palace Guard with his hood on.
"Area secure, sir."
Ansem took a step toward him cautiously. The guard's hood cast a shadow that obscured his face, and he made no motion of pleasantry to reveal its identity.
"Who are you?"
The guard did not respond. The dream was not about him. A stepping-stone appeared at the edge of the pillar, opposite to the one Ansem had used to arrive, and the guard watched as Ansem followed it slowly to another, higher pillar.
On this one was a mouse dressed as a king. Ansem looked curiously and long at this image before wandering about to see all of the other images around it. There was a duck. Ansem noted the staff that it carried and the military pose. There was a dog, again in a military stance. Next came another mouse, this one dressed as a queen. It was followed in turn by what appeared to be a meta-picture. It was an image of the interior of a vessel, viewed through its window. Inside the vessel stood the smartly dressed mouse, and in his hand was the vessel. Ansem pondered it before moving to the next image, which was not there. The next three panes were filled by crudely drawn representations of wind, water, and earth. Ansem passed them and looked into the final picture, which was of himself.
"Does this surprise you?"
The voice again. Ansem had nearly forgotten it.
"Am I to understand that these smaller images connect to the larger?"
The voice did not respond verbally. Instead, an ornate door appeared at the center of the pillar.
Ansem approached it and saw that it was transparent. There was one more trial for him.
"The keyblade will choose its wielder. And the righteous king will be sent to aid him."
Ansem heard a footstep behind him and he swiveled to face it. The guard, who had spoken, had just stepped onto the pillar.
"A leader is never wrong, and always knows the correct path. This is why his servants must follow him in any direction. If he chooses the wrong path, his servants follow. Are you wise, O king?"
Ansem scoffed. "Is Ansem the Wise, wise?"
The guard didn't respond.
The guard began walking towards him steadily and Ansem saw, out the corner of his eye, that the darkness on the other pillar consumed the final picture. He took a step back through the transparent door cautiously and a sudden fear gripped him as he had not known for many years. The other pillars began to crumble and shake as tendrils of darkness swallowed them whole and cracked their portraits. Ansem felt the weight of the keyblade leave his hand, and the figure of the guard approaching him was growing menacing.
"Pride comes before the fall, your majesty."
"Who are you?" Ansem's usually authoritative voice failed him and became a shriek of fear.
The guard stopped short of walking Ansem over the edge and held both of its hands at the base of its hood. Ansem's resolve trembled horribly in its foundations and he gulped hard.
The guard flicked his hood off of his head and Ansem nearly screamed. It was not the face of a being that had ever seen the light of day. IT was a being that could never, ever have existed in even the darkest of the terrible dreams that accompany disease. It was a dark and grotesque face, twisted in painful directions by its own sins and abominable acts. Its fangs dripped innocent blood and its teeth gnashed continually as if none of the belonged to a mouth that could function. And its eyes; Ansem was captivated and defiled by the horror of the windows to this beings soul. It took another step forward, pinning Ansem to the edge of the pillar. Then, in the voice of the damned, it whispered, "I am your legacy. A follower of the prideful king."
It pushed hard with both arms, and again Ansem was falling into the darkness. But this time, there was no one to save him. The final pillar remained whole and uncorrupted, except for a single piece. The image of Ansem the Wise turned dark and faded.
"Don't worry," whispered the voice.
"There are others to take your place."
"You're not my legacy!"
Johnny didn't startle at Ansem's sudden scream. It was not the first time he'd heard a scream in a dark room.
"You had a dream too, then."
Ansem gasped and turned toward the corner of his room where Johnny was standing.
"Who are you? Show yourself!"
Johnny stepped out of the darkness and Ansem gulped at him.
"What are you doing here?"
"Your daughter had a nightmare, sir. She sent me to tell you."
"Did she… tell you what it was about?"
"Do you need anything, sir?"
"No. No that's quite alright."
Ansem pulled his covers away and scooted off of the bed while Johnny watched idly.
"Take me there."
Johnny nodded and held the door open.
Xehanort sat up in his cot slowly and flexed his fingers. What a bizarre dream. But every dream has a meaning, no matter how insignificant. And insignificant was not the proper adjective for the lucidity of such a vision as he had just had. Xehanort hopped off of his cot and left his chamber immediately. He had slept in his lab coat, passing out from exhaustion in the usual manner of Ansem's students, and therefore didn't need to bother himself with changing. Changing would have been the last thing on his mind anyway. Xehanort sped down some of the labyrinthine corridors he knew so well. The other students would have to be woken. Maybe not Ansem, but everyone else had to get to work immediately. Xehanort made it to the end of another corridor, rounded a corner and had the wind knocked out of him by what felt like a brick wall. He was dropped flat on his back and held down by a boot. For a moment he thought he would black out, but voices brought him back to reality.
"Xehanort! What are you doing out here?"
Xehanort's vision swam for a moment and he panted rather than answering.
"Get off of him."
The boot was removed from his chest and he was helped to his feet by one of the Palace Guard.
"Xehanort, what are you doing?"
Xehanort braced himself against his knees.
"Master Ansem. I had a… I left something in the wrong file."
"It can wait. Go back to sleep."
"I wont remember it in the morning, master."
Xehanort shot a look at the guard, who had spoken. "You should know your place. Interrupting a-"
"You should know yours. Sir, Princess Gleie is waiting."
Ansem pointed an authoritative finger at Xehanort. "Back to your chamber. It can wait."
Xemnas bit his tongue and bowed before about-facing and walking in the direction of his chamber. He waited for the kings footsteps to leave earshot and the turned around again and continued running. He would not be told to go to his room.
Braig sighed and turned the coffee bean in his mouth over a few times while everyone began their five minute check in.
"North courtyard, secure."
Braig chimed in, "Parapet, west, secure."
"Parapet east, secure."
"Main gate. I have motion."
"Main gate, please identify."
"There's a badger out here, control. It looks like it's up to no good."
"Keep us posted, main gate."
"Will do, out."
Braig sniggered and peered around the exterior of the castle. Some trees rustled, a steady plume of smoke ascended from a lodge nearby, and some lights were still on in the city. No one attacked this castle, ever. Not for as several generations anyway. Braig sighed again and paced to the other end of his patrol before chewing a few more times on his coffee bean. A star flickered above him and caught his interest for a moment. He watched it spasm wildly, and then disappear suddenly. He stared at the space it had left in the sky curiously. After another hour of patrols, and several more coffee beans, it was as if it had never been there. Besides, there were plenty of other stars to take its place. Braig sighed again and spit out his coffee bean. He pulled another from his pocket and popped it into his mouth.
"North courtyard. I have motion. It's airborne."
Braig turned northward disinterestedly to watch what appeared to be a large star. It grew in size slowly for a great while -which was not ordinary, but still wasn't threatening- until it came close enough to be plainly seen. Braig's jaw went slack and the new coffee bean fell from his mouth. It was a ship; a space ship.